Book 58

The second blessing refers to material blessings; the third blessing discusses the result of total physical subservience to G'd, which results in the type of closeness to G'd that is the goal of all our strivings. This appears last, as it represents the attainment of our hishtalmut, our perfection.
Whenever man offers prayer, he automatically engages in service with his possessions, since he takes time out from being gainfully occupied. He employs his body, by standing, bowing, prostrating himself etc. Lastly, he employs his mind by concentrating on the proper meaning of his devotion. For this reason our sages consider prayer as comparable to service in the holy Temple. He who prays properly, deserves to be rewarded with the promise contained in the last of the Priestly blessings, i.e. shalom, serenity, a feeling of closeness to the Creator.
The eighteen benedictions parallel the Priests' blessings also formally, in that they commence with the word "bless" and end with the word "peace."
Since the generosity of G'd is frequently apparent by His granting a double measure of blessings, the three blessings can actually be viewed as six. Our sages accordingly may have divided the eighteen benedictions into three groups of six. In the first group of three, we express our belief in the ability of G'd to answer our requests. Inasmuch as these three benedictions are service with the mind, as we have explained, they are followed by three requests all of which are for the benefit of the mind. "You grant man knowledge," is a request for spiritual assistance to our intellect. "Make us return to Your Torah," is a request to help us overcome our sinful urges. The third request "forgive us our Lord for we have sinned," requests assistance to our "ego" problems which are the root cause of committing sins. All three requests, at any rate, are concerned with the improvement of the state of our mind, and therefore correspond to the "may He bless you and keep you" section of the Priestly blessings.
The next six benedictions, while dealing with physical needs, are divided into absolute needs, namely freedom of the body, health and food supply, followed by three requests which if not fulfilled will not jeopardise our survival, but will impede our progress towards our goal in life.
Without national redemption, restoration of inspired leadership, and visible punishment of our detractors, our progress towards the golden age can hardly be expected. The benedictions asking that the righteous will be seen to receive their reward, is the other side of the coin of the more recently added nineteenth benediction concerning "the slanderers." When we reach the last six benedictions, we find all of the "may He lift His countenance to you and grant you peace" variety, that we have in the Priestly blessing. The reestablishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, the coming of the Messiah, response to our supplications are the first phase of the eventual granting of the "peace" for which we strive in all its ramifications.
Rabbi Shimon, who warns in Avot 2,13, not to make prayer something that is performed by rote, i.e. keva, but rather to make all our prayers entreaties, wants us to utilise the recital of keriyat shema prior to the amidah to attain the mental state necessary to express our prayers meaningfully. In the absence of such mental state, the best we may receive is matnat chinam, an undeserved gift, but not the proper response to our prayers.
The Talmud in Shabbat 12, cites an interesting detail about the manner in which Rabbi Eleazar prayed for other people. Sometimes he would say in Hebrew "may the Lord grant you peace," and other times he would say the same thing, but in Aramaic. The Talmud queries this practice quoting a saying that prayers should not be said in Aramaic since the angels do not understand Aramaic, and would therefore ignore such prayers. The answer given in the Talmud is that it is no problem, since in the case of a sick person, the shechinah is present at the patient's bedside. Scriptural proof for this is cited. When the Talmud Sotah 33, quotes Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rav saying that a person should not pray in Aramaic, whereas we have the Mishnah saying that prayers may be recited in any language, the apparent contradiction is solved by making a distinction between a prayer offered in private and those offered publicly. The former, seeing they require an intermediary to reach their address, should not be said in Aramaic, the latter, since they do not require an intermediary, can be recited in any language.
It is most unlikely that the Talmud means to tell us that of all the languages in the world, the angels understand all except Aramaic. From Daniel 5,25, and the discussion in the Talmud of the hand that wrote the message on the wall of Belshazzar's palace, it is clear that it was an angel who did the writing. (Sanhedrin 52) How then can we understand the saying that angels do not understand Aramaic?
What Rabbi Yehudah in the name of Rav meant, was that we should not employ everyday language when praying. Such language is used thoughtlessly; it is used so mechanically that requests formulated in such terms are not accompanied by a meylitz yosher an advocate that advances our cause. The term "the angels of G'ds service," ( malachey hasharet) is merely a euphemism for "wings," giving our prayers "wings" so to speak. If we formulate our prayers in lashon hakodesh, the holy tongue, the concentration required will already be helpful in our attaining the proper spiritual level needed to accomplish what we set out to achieve when offering prayer.
However, in the presence of a sick person whose bed is presided over by G'd Himself, no such preparation is necessary. G'ds kindness is prepared to forego the usual requirements. Similarly, when a congregation prays, the collective concentration enables us to achieve through assembly what may be achieved otherwise only through purposeful individual concentration.
The Talmud reports on the same page that the High Priest enjoyed communication from the archangel Gabriel in Aramaic. If the angels did not "understand" Aramaic, such a statement would not make sense. If, however, as stated, the term Aramaic is used as describing everyday language, then the fact that when man wants something he should not employ such everyday terminology, but resort to the holy tongue, makes sense. The introduction of piyutim, liturgical poetry in our prayers served to enhance the concentration with which we would express these prayers.
One of the more puzzling statements concerning kavanah, or lack thereof, is found in Yerushalmi Berachot 2,4. Rabbi Chiyah reports that he contemplated the relative rank of the "Resh Galuta," the highest ranking temporal representative of the Jewish community in Babylonia while engaged in prayer. The sage Samuel recalls having counted chicks during prayer. Rabbi Bun counted the bricks on the wall. Surely, if these statements are to be taken at face value, even if they describe accidental happenings, their being included in the Talmud would be counterproductive rather than constructive!?
I believe these stories to be deliberate exaggerations. They are designed to illustrate thought associations in our mind. When one is deeply engrossed in something, it is extremely difficult to banish it from one's mind completely. The Rabbis' major occupation was Torah. Therefore, their major preoccupation was with matters connected with Torah. They found it difficult to exclude Torah thoughts from their minds even during prayer. Nevertheless, they wanted to conform to the halachic requirements to keep the times for prayer and the times for study completely separate. (Shabbat 6)
It happened to Rabbi Chiyah once, that during prayer he compared the relative merit of the Exilarch and someone called Alkafta, just as one mentally compares the relative merits of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Similarly, when the scholar Samuel recited the prayer attah chonen, which deals with three mental faculties, he found himself counting chicks since the mental faculties granted man enable him to raise himself from the ground, though like chicks, he must quickly return to earth. Rabbi Bunim, while contemplating the meaning of koneh hakol, "He who owns everything," thought of the innumerable layers of matter on which the universe is built, and the thought of a row of bricks intruded on his thinking.
These thought associations are a natural product of the ideas generated by the wording in the prayers. These Rabbis were so unhappy about their lapse of concentration, that they castigated themselves for what were very minor digressions.
When Solomon had his second vision, (Kings I, chapter 9) G'd refers to his prayers, not to the multitude of his offerings. This clearly indicates that the decisive element that prompted G'd to accept the prayers and grant the requests, was the mental attitude the prayers represented. Prayer complements the sacrificial service. It helps achieve closeness with G'd, which is the objective of sacrifice in the first place.

Book 59

"For He shall consecrate you seven days."
The Talmud Eyruvin 40, quotes two interpretations on the verse "give a portion to seven and also to eight." (Kohelet 11,2) Rabbi Eleazar says "seven" refers to the seven days of creation, whereas "eight" refers to the eight days before circumcision. Rabbi Joshua says that the seven days are the seven days of Passover, the eight days are the eight days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, whereas the words "and also" in the verse, refer to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Before creation, the term "Time" was meaningless, since it can only assume meaning in relation to events prior and after creation. As long as there was only G'd, there had been no need to create "Time." Once the process of creation had begun, we find "evening" and "morning." These are pivotal points against which events can be measured, can be timed. The concepts of "before" and "after" came into existence once there had been a bereshit, a "beginning."
The term zeman, season, refers to time as a general framework for events, the term eyt, "time" as a specific time frame for clearly defined happenings. The term "under the heavens," is applied to all that occurs in our cosmos, which is by definition a mobile one, in constant motion.
The same does not hold true for the supernatural. In that abstract world, there is no motion, therefore neither progress nor regression. When the Mishnah in Avot 4,22, states that "one hour of repentance in our world is worth more than the whole of the future world," the meaning is twofold. A) Even a short time frame is extremely precious. B) When such time is spent constructively, it can double and triple its value, since it represents the entrance fee to a world of permanence.
For this reason, Rabbi Meir advises people to minimise their earthly activities, and to maximise their Torah study, since "Time" was granted for the purpose of busying oneself with Torah study. "You shall be preoccupied with it by day and by night." (Joshua 1,8.) Should one ask how it is possible to attain worldly goods, seeing that they require much toil and time to amass, the answer is "be of humble spirit before all men." (Avot ibid.)
Should one spurn Torah in favour of the acquisition of transient values, one's own end will be as finite as that of the commodities to acquire which one spent so much time and effort. The reverse is true if one concentrates on the acquisition of Torah values.
To counteract any possible feeling of despair arising from the monumental nature of the task, Rabbi Tarfon adds: "it is not up to you to complete the task, yet you are not free to desist from it." Should someone not feel adequately rewarded for the effort, Rabbi Tarfon adds "your employer is faithful to pay you the reward for your work, but know that the reward of the righteous will come in the hereafter." This is based on the verse "which I command to you this day, to perform them." (Deut. 7,11) The Talmud Avodah Zarah 3, interprets the meaning as "to perform them today but not to receive the reward today."
Since man is apt to lose sight of the swift passage of time, and the brevity of his stay on earth, the Torah commands us to count seven year cycles and fifty year cycles to remind us how quickly the time allotted to us passes, and to alert us to use such time wisely. "Man worries about the loss of his money, but fails to worry about the loss of his time. His money does not really help him, whereas his time is lost irretrievably." (Sefer Hachayim, 10,1)
When the Torah legislates the counting of the cycles, (even of forty nine days ) it says "you shall count for yourself," meaning for your own benefit. The seven year cycles are symbolic of different stages of the average man's life cycle.
The meaning of our opening aggadah is as follows. If you refrain from contact with your wife during the seven days of the menstrual cycle, tum-ah, you will merit the blessing of the eighth day, i.e. circumcision, which symbolises ascendancy over the spirit of impurity, attainment of purity. Since "seven days" represent the "creation cycle," the number seven always reminds man both of his duties and of his limitations on this planet.
The seven days of consecration which Aaron and his sons spent in isolation, away from their respective families, prior to assuming their priestly functions, were to prepare them spiritually for their task.
While they had to remain on the threshold, they were neither to enter the sanctuary nor to leave the holy courtyard. This clearly demonstrated that these seven days were preparatory to their sacred task, but that until the eighth day their preparations would not be complete.